CHESAPEAKE CITY — The Cecil County sidelines will be missing a familiar figure on Friday nights.
Joe Graf announced on Twitter Friday afternoon that he has stepped down as coach of the Bohemia Manor football team after seven years, including the last three seasons at the helm.
“I’d like to take a second to thank everyone that has supported Bo Manor football and myself [over] the last three years I was the head coach,” Graf wrote. “I will always bleed Bo Manor football.”
Graf compiled a 19-14 record during his tenure as head coach, including a pair of trips to the postseason. In 2017, he guided the Eagles to a runner-up finish in the Susquehanna Division and a berth in the 1A East Region Championship.
“It was a very tough decision, and I was back and forth over it for some time. The main reason is to spend more time with my family. My boys are starting to grow up and I wanted to go coach them,” Graf said Saturday. “I’ve been coaching high school football for 12 years now and I’ve not really known much else. It just felt like the right time.”
Prior to taking over the program, Graf spent four years as offensive coordinator under long-time Bo Manor head coach Todd Shives. He also spent time as an assistant coach at nearby Elkton High.
“When I took over the job from Shives, my biggest thing was that while I wanted to pursue being a head coach, I didn’t want to break down everything he built at Bo Manor. That was the biggest thing on my plate was to continue the success, which I feel as a staff, we did,” Graf said. “My message I delivered each and every game was to go out there and leave everything you’ve got on the field. At the time, we may have had 30 or 35 kids on varsity, so we asked them to go out there and play for each other. We always [preached] we were the small dog in the fight but don’t take us lightly.
“I owe a lot to the players. They put all the work in and bought into what we were teaching as a staff.”
As a Bo Manor senior in 2002, he started at quarterback and helped guide the Eagles to their only football championship.
“He was a no-brainer when Todd Shives stepped down after 20 years as head coach. Joe was the heir apparent. The fact he was on that 2002 team, was one of the better athletes to ever come through the building, and had experience at not only Bo Manor but also at Elkton with [former coach] Sean Lenz. He did a great job with that,” Bo Manor athletic director Bruce Kline said Friday. “There really wasn’t a hiccup between a 20-year coach and a first-time head coach stepping in. He put his face on it but didn’t change a whole lot.
“We always talk about the Bo Manor family. He’s obviously a part of that.”
Graf’s 2017 team snapped the program’s run of seven-straight seasons without a playoff win when it defeated Cambridge-South Dorchester at home in the opening round.
“It had been a while since a playoff victory had happened, so that was my main goal going in with the players that year was to change that,” Graf said. “I want that to be the expectation every year. Not just to get in, but to win.”
Athletic Director Bruce Kline confirmed Friday that Eagles assistant coach Vince Ricci will succeed Graf, marking just the third head coach at Bo Manor since 1997.
“He played college ball, he’s been a part of the program for [four] years,” Kline said of Ricci. “Continuity is a big thing for me. I think that helps any program when the kids come in and they’re familiar with what’s happened and what will be going on.”
Ricci, who earned his start as coach under Shives in 2015, has been the team’s defensive coordinator the past three years under Graf, a span that saw the Eagles post five shutouts.
“I’m very excited to get the job. It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do. Going through college and wanting to be a teacher, I always wanted to be the head coach of a football program somewhere. So, it was a relatively easy decision to make when I was asked. I thank Coach Graf and Mr. Kline for thinking about me, especially since I’ve only been with the program for four-five years,” said Ricci, who plans to continue calling the defense. “Honestly, we’ve had a great group of kids the last three years that I’ve been defensive coordinator. Nothing crazy that I’ve done, it’s definitely been about the kids and their hard work. I hope to continue that with Bo Manor and keep that hard work mentality, because that’s what defense is all about.”
Ricci intends to run the program in similar fashion as his predecessors.
“I got my first start under Coach Shives, and he definitely set the tone for what Bo Manor football is supposed to be. We don’t have the numbers that a lot of other schools have, so we have to have these kids be very hard workers and very hard-nosed. The kids brought into that with Coach Shives, Coach Graf had the same thing, and now I’m trying to promote that, as well,” Ricci said. “Just hard work, hard-nosed and out-work your opponent. It definitely comes down to how hard you work. If you’re willing to put in the work, there should be some pretty decent success here.”
Follow Jordan Schatz on Twitter: @Jordan_Whig